Sunday, 09 Aug 2020

Rocks from Mars return home after 600,000 years on Earth


MarsMars - A small piece of meteorite from the London Museum of Natural History will be used by explorers exploring the red planet

A small piece of rock will be thrown into space this week on one of the strangest interplanetary voyages ever attempted. A small piece of Mars basal the size of a 10-cent dollar coin will be launched on a US robot aircraft on Thursday and pushed towards the red planet on a seven-month trip to his hometown.

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This extraordinary exploration, the equivalent of interplanetary exploration to deliver coal to Newcastle, will form an important part of the upcoming Mars 2020 expedition. The space engineer said the stone which had been donated by the Natural History Museum in London would be used to calibrate the detector on the Perseverance plow robot after landing and begin searching for signs of past life on the planet.

"When you turn on the instrument and start adjusting it before using it for research, you calibrate it on material that will be like an unknown substance that you will study. So, what is better to study rocks on Mars than lumps originating from there? "Said Professor Caroline Smith, curator of the Natural History Museum's meteorite.

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Scientists believe that the rock they returned to Mars came from this planet, added Smith, who is also a member of the Mars 2020 science team. "The tiny bubbles of gas trapped inside the meteorite have exactly the same composition as the atmosphere of Mars, so we know our rocks come from there."

It is estimated that the Mars meteorite was created when an asteroid or comet fell to the planet around 600,000 to 700,000 years ago, spraying debris into space. One piece of debris swept through the solar system and finally crashed into Earth. The meteorite - now known as SAU 008 - was discovered in Oman in 1999 and has been treated at the Natural History Museum since then.

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Among the instruments mounted on the Perseverance plow is a high-precision laser called Sherloc, which will be used to decompose the rock's chemical composition and determine whether they might contain organic material that indicates life once existed - or still exists - on Mars. The inclusion of a SAU 008 piece is intended to ensure this is done with maximum accuracy.

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"The piece of stone that we sent was specifically chosen because it is the right material in terms of chemistry, but it is also a very tough stone," Smith added. "Some of the Martian meteorites that we have are very fragile. This meteorite is as strong as old boots. "

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After Perseverance chooses the most promising stone that can be found, it will dump it in a cache on the surface of Mars. This will then be taken by the next robot mission and gliding into space for Earth for analysis.


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